It’s that time of year again, when we’re all expected to be joyful from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. But underneath it all, more than one-third of us report feeling more stress around holidays, according to the American Psychological Association. And almost two-thirds report fatigue sometimes or often even when holidays are going well.
“Time, money and gift-giving are the top identified stressors,” says Rich Roell, program manager for LifeWorks NW Washington County Crisis Team at the Hawthorn Walk-In Center. “We are inundated with commercial images about what makes a happy holiday.”
To help keep your holiday happy, it’s worth reviewing your stress management tools. Even if you practice some of these already, holiday indulgence and family gatherings can throw you off your game.
Make a plan. Get ahead of some of that pressure around time, money and gifting by deciding early what you can and can’t do. Figure out ahead of time what you will do about feeling overwhelmed or lonely.
“Ask for help,” Rich says. “You don’t have to be the one person who does it all.”
Practice saying no. It’s hard to please everyone in the best of times and holidays give rise to many tough choices and situations.
“Think about your triggers and decide ahead how you’ll handle them,” Rich says. “Rehearse a little speech in your head so you’re ready if people challenge your choices.”
If you already know you must avoid your family of origin, then of course you must. You don’t have to offer an explanation or apology to people who pick apart any reason to get what they want from you. Allow yourself to just say no, as kindly as you can manage.
Manage expectations. Holidays are lovely but they don’t magically cure ours and others’ shortcomings. Relish the cheer and be clear-eyed about limits and differences.
“It’s okay to opt out, but communicate,” Rich says, “If festivities become more stressful than cheerful.”
Go easy. Avoid maxing out your time, energy and resources striving for holiday cheer. Draining yourself is a recipe for stress or unwise choices, like overeating or substance use.
“Holidays are a time of indulgence,” Rich says. “But next day, get back on track.”
Keep your routine. Holiday time gets very busy, which is all the more reason to keep up your health and wellness activities.
“Get enough sleep, stay on your meds and keep to your routine to stay grounded,” Rich says.
Give yourself. Taking the focus off ourselves relieves stress, Rich says. “Volunteer. Talk to someone every day. Don’t assume everyone has a support system – checking in with others is good for them and good for us, too. And lean into your own support system.”
Stress management tools can help you take comfort and joy in the season of merriment and take care of yourself, too.
“You don’t have to do it all,” Rich says. “Do what’s meaningful to you.”
LifeWorks NW during closed hours 971-244-4635
Washington County Crisis Line: 503-291-9111
Multnomah County Mental Health Call Center: 503-988-4888
Clackamas County Mental Health Crisis Line: 503-655-8585
Call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. While it’s a myth that holidays trigger suicides, Rich says, thoughts and ideation may still be present.
2-1-1 info–Community resources
Tips to manage holiday stress